In addition of course to good beer and good friends, a good bar for me is defined by a good game: photo hunt (the NSFW version) and foosball at Murphy’s, bar olympics at Steny’s (where I dominated at the tricycle races), volleyball at Fat Daddy’s, bocce ball in the basement of Half Time Rec, lawn bowling at Brit’s, and lately a surprisingly competitive trivia night at New Bohemia. Some of these teams even have their own Twitter handles and use the same name every week to indicate the source of their trivia talents – I guess I’d better start handing out my card on trivia night.
One game I have not seen much at bars in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee is skee ball. I think the last time I played skee ball was at a Circus Pizza or a Chuck E. Cheese. It wasn’t until I read about Skee-Ball Inc.’s dispute with competitive skee-ball league Brewskee-Ball that I learned that SKEE-BALL is a registered trademark for “game in the nature of a bowling game.” In 2011, Skee-Ball sued the operators of Brewskee-Ball for trademark infringement in a case that is still pending. Despite raising an affirmative defense that the term is generic in its answer to Skee-Ball’s complaint, earlier this month, Full Circle United, LLC (which operates the Brewskee-Ball league) filed a petition to cancel the SKEE-BALL trademark with the TTAB as being a generic term.
Prior to the lawsuit, a federal registration was obtained for the mark BREWSKEE-BALL for “entertainment in the nature of skee-ball games; entertainment services, namely, arranging and conducting of skee-ball competitions; providing a website that provides statistics for skee-ball league players; providing recognition and incentives by the way of awards to demonstrate excellence in the field of skee-ball.”
Surprisingly, the identification for the registered mark includes the registered term “skee-ball.” Under the trademark rules, the identification is supposed to list generic terms for the goods or services and it is “inappropriate to use a registered mark to identify a kind of product or a service, because such a mark indicates origin in only one party and cannot be used to define goods that originate in a party other than the registrant.” TMEP 1402.09. The Trademark Office is supposed to look for this when accepting identifications of goods and services, but no objection was made.
As it fights Skee-Ball now in court and at the USPTO, Brewskee-Ball has joined the recent trend that we’ve seen with other smaller fish arguing trademark rights with a bigger fish like FiftyThree with Facebook over PAPER, Exit 6 Pub and Brewery and Starbucks, Café Roubaix Bicycle Shop and Specialized. And they’re raising revenue for their legal battles through crowdfunding and anti-establishment swag. While Exit 6 Pub got a lot of attention for changing its Frappicino beer name to simply The F Word, Brewskee-Ball’s take has the most aggressive tone that I’ve seen. The Brewskee-Ball Twitter background reads in a graffiti font “THERE’S NO WAY TO SAY SKEE BALL EXCEPT SKEE BALL” and their skeethepeople.com website features an interesting take on Lady Justice, with uneven weights on her scale of justice.
It’s clearly safe to say that this trend is not going away anytime soon. It’s relatively cheap to set up a website, get a Twitter handle, tweets some hashtags, and generate some sympathetic noise about your trademark dispute.
And while we’re probably not quite there yet – at what point do the bullied become the bullies?